Tag Archives: grassland

Threatened Plant Species – Aloe saundersiae

ASPHODELACEAE: Aloe saundersiae  [Critically endangered]

Smallest of all aloes in South Africa, they are found in rocky places, crevices  and open ground amongst short grass within central KwaZulu-Natal.

Aloe saundersiae

Aloe saundersiae

The plant grows up to 15 mm high. They are small plants becoming stemless with spindle shaped roots, solitary or small tufted groups. Leaves rosulate, narrowly linear 10-16 to a rosette. Upper surface slightly channelled with longitudinal groove, green without spots, lower surface green, and few white spots near base.

Aloe saundersiae

Aloe saundersiae

Margins soft white triangular teeth, distant near base, smaller and crowded upwards. Inflorescence simple 140-180 mm high. Flower pale cream-pink. Flowering in February to March.

Aloe saundersiae

Aloe saundersiae

If you have seen this plant, please contact Suvarna Parbhoo, CREW programme: KZN Node Manager s.parbhoo@sanbi.org.za
Reference: JEPPE, B. 1969. South African Aloes. Purnell. Cape Town.

A very dedicated Suvarna Parbhoo of CREW

A very dedicated Suvarna Parbhoo of CREW

Boophane and Bushman’s Tea

Boophane and Bushman’s tea – not words one would normally associate with suburbia. However, on a recent walk through the steep north facing grassland in World’s View Conservancy, these were just two of the interesting plants we found.

worlds view leonotisThe Conservancy hosted other members of the Midlands Conservancies Forum to show off their work and the treasures that they have uncovered in the area. First stop was the View Site which they help to maintain by doing regular litter clean ups. This is also the spot where their popular Carols by Candlelight event is held. “Last year it was quite magical” Elli Hamilton says “the mist was really thick and the bagpipes playing created a wonderful atmosphere.”

worlds view ellie len howard

We explore the area, chatting about the Voortrekker road which passed this way hundreds of years ago. There is still evidence of that in the grooves the wheels gouged in the rocks and this “brake rock”. Apparently the wagons were tethered to the rock as they descended to slow them down. Howard Richardson is a mine of interesting information about the Heritage Site.

worlds view brake rockAt this time of year, the aloes are all about to burst into bloom and it would be well worth visiting the area in a few weeks’ time.

worlds view aloe flowers
Then, the real treat – a patch of untransformed grassland perched precariously between the R103 and the pine plantations on top of the ridge.

worlds view ellie in grasslandAlthough nothing is in flower at the moment, we found all sorts of interesting plants including the above mentioned Boophane disticha and Bushman’s tea – Athrixia phylicoides.

worlds view boophaneRead about some of the other treasures to be found in a recent blog post World’s View is Worth Conserving. After searching for the splendid specimen of Boophane in the long grass, Len carefully hid it again as it is popular medicinal plant and might be at risk from muthi gatherers. “This is our jewel” he said proudly as a Red Admiral butterfly flitted past and three Long-Crested Eagles swirled overhead.

worlds view buddleja

Then we headed into the green desert  which comprise 80% of the Conservancy area – the plantations – along the old abandoned railway line, passing through a 100 year old tunnel. This line, known as the Townhill Deviation, was abandoned in the 1960’s when the Cedara Twin Tunnels were built (still in use today).

worlds view tunnelWe came across an old station platform – the Teteleku Station, now completely overgrown. The foundations of the Station Master’s cottage and an enormous avocado tree still bearing fruit are remnants of a life long gone.

worlds view avo treeAmongst the invasive plants, a few indigenous species cling on bravely, like this pretty pink Pavonia.

worlds view pavoniaThe Conservancy is justifiably proud of the work they have done uncovering parts of the Teteleku Stream and original wetlands. This will be an on going project, but is already having a positive impact on the amount of water flowing down the hill.

worlds view teteleku and plantationWe come to an area where the DUCT River Care team are hard at work clearing the banks of a tributary of the Dorpspruit. The banks have been infested with Ginger and Bugweed, but the water is now visible and we can hear it as it cascades over some rocks out of view. “Now that is a special sound” says Elli.

teteleku stream alien clearing

Back at the Girl Guides Hall on top of the ridge, welcome and delicious refreshments await. Howard and Pat Wilkinson do interesting presentations on the area and the efforts of the Conservancy to protect the natural heritage – animals (including caracal), 98 species of birds and endangered plants – and cultural heritage for posterity. Well done, World’s View Conservancy.
worlds view committee

CREW Fieldtrip to Sitamani

The seventh CREW fieldtrip for the 2013/2014 season was held at Sitamani in Boston. A beautiful patch of grassland which Christeen and Phillip Grant have looked after for the past 22 years – ensuring there have been no cattle grazing and trampling the plants. Christeen compiled this report which includes photos by Christeen, Peter Warren, Nkululeko Mdladla and Nikki Brighton.

03 CREW Sitamani CGrant

What a stunning flower filled day with plenty of sunshine! 13 enthusiastic people accompanied by Tigger our 19 year old cat, visited our wild flower ‘garden’, Sitamani.

Jenny Myhill kindly gave Tigger a lift when the grass got very long!

04 CREW Sitamani CGrant

Some lovely new finds including two orchids. Habenaria lithophila, final identification was due to the three lower petal lobes, which are long and very slender.

Habenaria lithophila 02 CGrant

Habenaria lithophila 01 CGrant

Disa patula, which at first glance looked like a stunted, late flowering Satyrium longicauda, had us puzzled.

().  Sitamani near Boston.

Jocelyn Sutherland spotted the distinctive ‘pixie cap’ which led to deeper investigation.

Disa patula 02 CGrant

().  Sitamani near Boston.

The next ground orchid seen was Eulophia tenella, the buds just about to open.

Eulophia tenella CGrant

Linum thunbergii, a shining, tiny yellow flower with round petals and reddish buds, was the third ‘new’ flower find.

Linum thunbergii CGrant

The final new identification was a small tree, Rock Crowned-Medlar, Pachystigma macrocalyx.

r Gina Cristeen Nikki rock medlar

According to the Pooley’s field guide, it is a small tree up to 4m, found in rocky outcrops in grassland. The leaves are quite thick and densely hairy.

Rock Crowned-medlar Pachystigma macrocalyx CGrant

In the rocks beneath it, growing quite profusely was a mystery flower.  We do love a mystery flower! Please can anyone can help with an ID?

05 Mystery flower any ideas_ CGrant

Although the other flowers had been seen before, they kept us mesmerized, and looking further in the grass and photographing everything we came across.


There was an abundance of Killickia pilosa, (old name Satureja reptans thanks to Peter Warren for the new name), sending a waft of fresh mint as we walked over them. We all sampled the delicious mint tasting leaves, laughingly calling them San sweets!

().  Sitamani near Boston.

Amongst others these were the flowers / seedheads we found: Aloe boylei seedheads,

Aloe boylei seeds CGrant

Berkheya rhapontica,

Berkheya rhapontica

Crassula alba

Crassula alba white CGrant

which, despite it’s name, comes in yellow and red too!

Crassula alba yellow CGrant

and the dainty little Crassula brachypetala,

Crassula brachypetala CGrant

Epilobium capense,

Epilobium capense CGrant

the very spotty Gladiolus ecklonii

Gladiolus ecklonii CGrant

& Gladiolus sericeovillosus seedheads,

Gladiolus sericeovillosus seed pod CGrant

Helichrysum rugulosum,

Helichrysum rugulosum CGrant

Hermannia woodii, (we all adore the dainty bell flowers on this plant)

Hermannia woodii CGrant

Hypericum lalandii,

Hypericum lalandii CGrant

Kniphofia laxiflora in both yellow and orange forms,

Kniphofia laxiflora yellow CGrant

Leonotis intermedia,

Leonotis intermedia CGrant

Indigofera hedyantha,

Indigofera heyantha CGrant

the graceful Polygala hottetotta.

Polygala hottentotta CGrant

We scrambled up the rocks to photograph Printzia pyrifolia,

Printzia pyrifolia 02 CGrant

r gina brown sitamani CREW Feb 2014 033

Rhynchosia adenodes, (used in traditional medicine to treat dysentery in calves)

Rhynchosia adenodes CGrant

Schizocarpus nervosa seeds (used to be called Scilla nervosa)

Schizocarphus nervosa seeds CGrant

Schizoglossum bidens,

Schizoglossum bidens CGrant

Sebaea sedoides,

Sebaea sedoides 02 CGrantAlways interesting to find tiny invertebrates (often the pollinators) in the flowers – like this crab spider on the Sebaea sedoides

06 Crab Spider in Sebaea sedoides CGrant

and this Gaudy Commodore butterfly (summer form)  perched on the inflorescence of Kniphofia buchananii. 

07 Gaudy Commodore summer form on Kniphofia buchananii CGrant

Striga bilabiata – a parasitic plant known as Small Witchweed

Striga bilabiata CGrant

beautiful stands of Watsonia densiflora which have been particularly spectacular this year.

Watsonia densiflora CGrant

Zaluzianskya microsiphon (Short tubed Drumsticks)

Zalunzianskya microsiphon CGrant

and Zornia capensis.

Zornia capensis CGrant

The final list of plants recorded for the day was over 50.  The Durban Bot Soc members who joined us were pleased they made the effort to explore some of the special Midlands mist-belt grassland.

r sitamani CREW Feb 2014 021

Nkululeko Mdladla filmed the action, so watch out for the CREW movie coming soon!

02 CREW Sitamani Nkulu CGrant

Interested in joining the CREW (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers)?  – email info@midlandsconservancies.org.za Next outings 5 March to Blinkwater (contact Suvarna 082 354 5649 and 21 March to Mbona Estate in Karkloof.  During Autumn, we will host a workshop on plant collecting and pressing in Fort Nottingham.

Is Fire Season Over?

Bobby Hoole of Lion’s River Fire Protection Agency is hopeful that the danger of out of control fires has passed.   He writes:

What a great week – no fires and a fair amount of moisture.  Is fire season over, I certainly hope it is drawing to a speedy close.  If one looks at the weather forecasts, this seems likely. Since Wednesday last week there has been rather sporadic rainfall: Currys Post: 25mm; Karkloof: 25mm; Petrus Stroom; Lions River FPA Base: 22mm (3km from Currys Post) – (38mm for October to date versus 197mm this time last year); Southern side of Midmar: 12mm; Nottingham Road: 12mm.  This week look promising with rainfall up to 30mm expected over a number of days.  One will notice from the forecast table that conditions will remain cool for the entire week.

r rocky grassland burnt grass


  • Refuse pits – NO BURNING until 1 November
  • Garden refuse – NO BURNING until 1 November
  •  Brush / Forestry slash – NO BURNING until 1 November, BUT will be closely monitored iro of fire danger, especially burning off within close proximity to any forestry compartments


Veld Management

Veld management refers to the utilisation and management of forage in veld (grasses and trees) for animal production, through grazing and browsing.

Veld management involves the planned movement of animals and the control of animal numbers to keep the veld in a good condition and to improve veld that is in a poor condition

The ultimate aim of veld management is to protect and even build up topsoil to ensure current and future food production. Grasses are extremely effective in stabilising topsoil and should therefore be well managed in order to maintain a good soil cover.

A lack of proper veld management leads to overgrazing. During continuous long-term overgrazing, grasses die off and lose their hold on the ground and soil washes away. Grasses, and especially good grazing grasses, cannot grow in eroded areas.

grassland spring.res

Controlled Fire

Controlled fire is a major factor in determining the composition of grasslands and a widespread and powerful tool in grassland management. Its effect depends on its intensity, seasonality, frequency and type. The intensity depends on the type, structure and abundance of fuel. Fire is used to remove unpalatable grass and enable re-growth and access to the young herbage by grazing stock. It often stimulates re-growth and supplies a green bite when most needed. Fire is also used to control woody vegetation.

Burning of grassland must be carefully controlled and timed, otherwise it can cause serious damage, however, planning burning and controlling fire are the two key factors that always need to be given serious consideration.  Since fire has so severe an effect, burning must take the whole ecosystem into account, not only the grass and the grazing livestock.

Ill-timed fire can have a devastating effect on wildlife, including nesting and young birds.

r tree fern burnt

Objects of Act

The objectives of the Conservation of Agricultural Resource Act are to provide for the conservation of the natural agricultural resources of the Republic by the maintenance of the production potential of land, by the combating and prevention of erosion and weakening or destruction of the water sources, and by the protection of the vegetation and the combating of weeds and invader plants

In order to achieve the objects of this Act the Minister may prescribe control measures which shall be complied with by land users to whom they apply.  Such control measures may relate to-

  • the utilization and protection of vlei’s, marshes, water sponges, water courses and water sources;
  • the prevention and control of veld fires;
  • the utilization and protection of veld which has burned;
  • the control of weeds and invader plants;

Important and inter-related legislation

  • Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998 (NEMA)
  • Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act 43 of 1983 (CARA)
  • National Veld and Forest Fire Act 101 of 1998
  • National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004

CARA – What the law says

Intermediate Moist Grassveld: These are areas of relatively high rainfall (738 mm plus), and temperatures   of 15.4o C, on mixed and sourveld. It comprises Bioresource   Groups: Moist and Dry Midlands Mistbelt, Northern Mistbelt and Moist Lowland   Tall Grassveld. 15 July to 30 September
  1. Veld should be burnt        as early as possible within the specific period, but preferably after        a rain. (Comment        – the LRFPA takes the rain in consideration as this impacts how the fuel        load will burn, if there is no rain on the horizon burning will be        permitted on cool and calm days when the fire danger is low – and on the        other hand if there has been a good rain, burning may still not be        permitted due to high fire dangers and fuel load conditions – hence the        balance needs to be found)
  1. Grazing of burnt veld        should only commence once the grass leaves have attained a minimum        length of 50 mm.
Cool Moist Grassveld: These areas have mean annual temperatures varying from 7.5o C to   18.9o C and rainfall from 712 mm to 1 390 mm and include the:   Moist and Dry Highland Sourveld, Montane Veld, Moist Transitional Tall   Grassveld and Moist Tall Grassveld. 1 August to 30 September
  1. (i) Veld should be        burnt as early as possible within the specific period, but preferably        after a rain.
  1. (ii) Grazing of burnt        veld should only commence once the grass leaves have attained a minimum        length of 50 mm.

What the Grass Scientists say  – a recent viewpoint on biodiversity of grasslands – Note: viewpoints are respected

Burn off grass camps in a mosaic pattern, do it in late autumn, not in mid winter and certainly not in early spring.  (Comment – seems to be complete opposite to CARA and burning grass in May!)

By early spring the grass birds have started nesting, the lizards are out and the entire bio-system is waking up and fire destroys it.

One will also deprive the grazers of essential protein over winter, or at least restricted them to the fire breaks only.

Spring is defined as 1st of September but it can be earlier or later depending on the severity of the winter.

The continued cold after a burn favours the desirable grass species like Themeda that can withstand the cold and comes through more slowly but fools the unpalatable species like Ngongoni that comes up within two weeks but then gets either eaten because it is still succulent or frosted off.

Hence, always an interesting topic of discussion.

ursinia in grasslandres

One thing is very clear to me and I will re-iterate what I have said in prior correspondence with regard to how the Lions River FPA manages the matters and the two key factors that are always taken into consideration and which need to be carefully balanced at all times;

  1. The National Veld & Forest Fire Act: The fire danger – is it going to be a safe and cool burning operation to ensure the potential risks associated with spread of fire is low, and
  2. Conservation of Agricultural Resource Act:  Is the FPA and its membership going to fall within the CARA guidelines (per the Act) if burning is permitted

I wish I could say and advise otherwise – BUT, without abiding to the principle of law, where would our society be today?

In reality what does happen:

  • The landowner knows best – burns when they want to anyway.
  • The landowner does not call in to get permission to burn
  • The landowner does call in but does not listen to the fire danger advice and burns anyway
  • The landowner is busy on days when burning could have taken place and leaves grass burning to the very last day of the season, generally when fuel load conditions are not good, there has been no rain etc and then applies a few of the point above –result runaway fires!

One point is certain – by balancing the two Acts and monitoring / managing what does happen, incidents of uncontrolled fires as a result of block burning activities have reduced dramatically and landowners have become more aware of grass management issues.


Notice the two large storage dams – Pongolapoort and Woodstock, (a big drop in volume 165m cubic litres (70% of Midmar) & 37 million cubic litres respectively)  and continued water transfer from Mearns to Midmar.  You will have noticed that farm dam levels have dropped dramatically over the past few weeks as well.




This Week

Last Week

Last Year

Albert Falls Dam Mgeni River





Craigie Burn Dam Mnyamvubu River





Inanda Dam Mgeni River





Mearns Dam Mooi River





Midmar Dam Mgeni River





Nagle Dam Mgeni River





Pongolapoort   Dam Phongolo   River





Wagendrift Dam Boesmans River





Woodstock   Dam Tugela   River





Enjoy the wet weather.  Bobby.

Further information and some interesting articles on “Burning Issues” can be found on the Dargle Conservancy website. look up: http://www.dargleconservancy.org.za/firemore.html

r field of tulbaghia stone wall